The Gay Rights Vote

February 26, 2007

Via the Daily Dish: it appears as if the gay rights vote is no longer in the Democrats’ pockets. Jason Kuznicki of Positive Liberty has a long post about the rank failure of the Human Rights Campaign to do anything effective, which has gotten to the point that it doesn’t even identify itself when it calls supporters asking for donations. In contrast, he says, the free market has been tremendously successful.

“Conservative” corporate America just keeps on getting things right, both in their sales pitches to us and in the way that the big corporations are all rushing to offer equal treatment to gays and lesbians. Do you want an example of capitalists working to help minorities, while the government and the nonprofit sector both lag behind? Look no further. (Hosted, ironically enough, by the same HRC that doesn’t manage nearly so well with its own gays and lesbians…) If current trends continue, gays and lesbians may well be the test case that proves that employment nondiscrimination laws aren’t really necessary at all — take any sufficiently developed capitalist economy, free it from public or private coercion, and the profit motive may just be enough to end discrimination all by itself.

Obviously, some anti-discrimination laws are necessary, especially when passing is difficult or impossible. In the comments, Kuznicki suggests that this is the case: responding to a commenter who complains that HRC is not doing anything for transgendered people, he says that,

The stigma against transgendered people is vastly stronger, so much so that at times nearly the entire institutional weight of society is against them. When this happens, the case for government intervention is far more powerful.

My actual point isn’t about how important anti-discrimination laws are. I tend to follow the mainstream gay rights movement in the US in considering legal equality – military service, adoption, marriage – to be the most important gay rights issue. Rather, it’s about the fact that the Democratic Party has been allowed to take various socially liberal groups, including gays, atheists, and pro-choicers, for granted.

It’s a good thing that there exist libertarian gay rights activists who support the Republicans on most issues. It’s C. S. Lewis in reverse: gays, atheists, pro-choicers, etc., have the most influence when they constitute significant factions within both political blocs. Political parties don’t like to spend political capital on anything, except perhaps their leaders’ pet issues; they’d rather accumulate it, and with it, get more power. Activists who can say “If you screw us, we have another party to turn to” are invaluable for any agenda. It comes naturally to moderates, but not so much to groups like gay rights activists.

Instead, the left is acting like Dobson and tries to squash any non-Democratic support for gay rights. As Pam notes, when Republican State Representative Dan Zwonitzer helped kill an anti-gay bill in Wyoming and passionately called for equality, the HRC ignored him. Never mind that he gives Pam teeth when she tells the Democrats homophobia is a vote loser; he’s a member of the wrong party, so he must be shunned.

The 2008 election is a good opportunity to marginalize the Dominionist vote within the Republican Party. The Dominionists say they like none of the Republican primary candidates; Giuliani, Romney, and McCain are too liberal for them, and the lightweights and darkhorses all have some personal purity issues (Brownback is pro-immigration, Huckabee raised taxes, and so on). Giuliani in particular offers cultural liberals a tremendous opportunity to return the Dominionists to a position of political irrelevance.

Of course, it’s conversely a good opportunity for the Dominionists to establish a foothold within the Democratic Party. This is especially troubling since of the three serious Democratic Presidential contenders, the one who’s the most fundamentalist is also the one who’s the most electable.

Still, both parties have significant contingents that will do their best not to allow this switch to happen. Make no mistake about it, it’s a political fistfight; pro-choicers and gay rights activists just have to be better at it than the religious right in order to ensure that the Democratic Party does not make room for Dominionists. If Clinton were more electable or less conniving it would make sense to support her, since she actually cares about keeping abortion legal; unfortunately, she’s neither. But for what it’s worth, whenever some left-wing Dominionist makes an offer – “Sacrifice women and gays and atheists and we’ll vote for you” – a good start would be to point out that Independents aren’t into that kind of sacrifice.


Apply for Asylum in the US, Be Thrown to Jail Together with Your Kids

February 23, 2007

The US is the land of freedom and opportunity, as long as you’re not an asylum seeker. Lawmakers who’re more concerned with making sure absolutely no third-worlder gets in unless he really has to than with respecting basic human rights passed legislation to imprison asylum seekers and their families pending trial. Just on the off chance you’re not the type who clicks links,

In fact, nearly half of [Hutto Prison's] 400 or so residents are children, including infants and toddlers.

The inmates are immigrants or children of immigrants who are in deportation proceedings. Many of them are in the process of applying for political asylum, refugees from violence-plagued and impoverished countries like Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Somalia and Palestine. (Since there are different procedures for Mexican immigrants, the facility houses no Mexicans.)

In the past, most of them would have been free to work and attend school as their cases moved through immigration courts. “Prior to Hutto, they were releasing people into the community,” says Nicole Porter, director of the Prison and Jail Accountability Project for the ACLU of Texas. “These are non-criminals and nonviolent individuals who have not committed any crime against the U.S. There are viable alternatives to requiring them to live in a prison setting and wear uniforms.”

But as a result of increasingly stringent immigration enforcement policies, today more than 22,000 undocumented immigrants are being detained, up from 6,785 in 1995, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Normally, men and women are detained separately and minors, if they are detained at all, live in residential facilities with social services and schools. But under the auspices of “keeping families together,” children and parents are incarcerated together at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, as it is now called, and at a smaller facility in Berks County, Penn. Attorneys for detainees say the children are only allowed one hour of schooling, in English, and one hour of recreation per day.

“It’s just a concentration camp by another name,” says John Wheat Gibson, a Dallas attorney representing two Palestinian families in the facility.

In addition, there have been reports of inadequate healthcare and nutrition.

If you’re brave enough to venture to the comment thread, which features such gems as “The violence is here because of illegal aliens” (and still the 1990s saw both a massive influx of illegal immigrants into the US and a drastic drop in crime), go help Jenny respond to the xenophobes.

There’s certainly a big chunk of the population everywhere that sees foreigners as less than human. Forget unfounded statements like “Liberals are only about the right of icky people to do icky things”; the real outrage about liberals is that they support the right of people of the wrong nationality to have basic human dignity. Ironically, a US population that by and large believes in offering illegal immigrants legal status – in Texas it’s 59-35 – has no trouble with treating immigrants like subhumans.

Although this attitude isn’t restricted to the US, in the US it’s worse than in most other areas of at least the developed world. People in Germany and France and Norway watch American movies, travel to neighboring countries often, and have friends from more than one country. In the US outside a few big coastal cities like New York or Los Angeles, a person can live his whole life not knowing that there exists a world outside US borders. It’s The Gods Must Have Gone Crazy on a larger scale.

It’s of course not ignorance alone that has produced this. Israelis, who know very well that there exists a world outside their country, abuse foreigners all the time, for example by needlessly strip-searching at the airport. But Israel is somewhat of a special case; evidently, Germany, which is overall a lot less into immigrants’ rights than the US is, doesn’t commit those atrocities, or at least hasn’t in 60 years.


More Fascism

February 20, 2007

Two important pieces of news, one about civil liberties in the US and one about the impending war on Iran, juxtapose nicely with one I said earlier about the two characteristics of fascism.

First, the DC Court of Appeals ruled that Guantanamo Bay detainees are not allowed to challenge their detention, and that in general the right to challenge any detention doesn’t extend to anyone who’s not a US citizen. If I stop posting for a few days straight, you know where to find me.

The 2-1 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit dismisses hundreds of cases filed by foreign-born detainees in federal court and also threatens to strip away court access to millions of lawful permanent residents currently in the United States.

It upholds a key provision of the Military Commissions Act, which Bush pushed through Congress last year to set up a Defense Department system to prosecute terrorism suspects. Now, detainees must prove to three-officer military panels that they don’t pose a terror threat.

And second, the US is expanding the circumstances in which it will bomb Iran. In principle, the circumstances are very limited – if Iran is proven to produce a nuclear weapon, or if it is proven to directly cause a massive attack on US troops in Iraq. In practice, the circumstances for the war on Iraq were proof that Saddam had WMD…

[Link] The BBC’s Tehran correspondent France Harrison said the news that there are now two possible triggers for an attack was a concern to Iranians. She added that authorities insisted there was no cause for alarm but ordinary people were now becoming a little worried.

Earlier this month, US officials said they had evidence Iran was providing weapons to Iraqi Shia militias. At the time, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the accusations were “excuses to prolong the stay” of US forces in Iraq, the BBC reported.


If a fascist bill passes without anyone making a fuss, is it still in effect?

February 20, 2007

In October, I wasn’t that concerned with Bush’s torture and habeas corpus revocation bills because it only codified existing infractions, which nobody did anything about anyway. But now the New York Times has an editorial that shows why I should’ve been verbally shelling the administration.

A disturbing recent phenomenon in Washington is that laws that strike to the heart of American democracy have been passed in the dead of night. So it was with a provision quietly tucked into the enormous defense budget bill at the Bush administration’s behest that makes it easier for a president to override local control of law enforcement and declare martial law.

The provision, signed into law in October, weakens two obscure but important bulwarks of liberty. One is the doctrine that bars military forces, including a federalized National Guard, from engaging in law enforcement. Called posse comitatus, it was enshrined in law after the Civil War to preserve the line between civil government and the military. The other is the Insurrection Act of 1807, which provides the major exemptions to posse comitatus. It essentially limits a president’s use of the military in law enforcement to putting down lawlessness, insurrection and rebellion, where a state is violating federal law or depriving people of constitutional rights.

I’m usually skeptical of attempts to connect many different ideological components that happen to go together in a current political alliance. I haven’t read The Wimp Factor, but my general impression of it, based on Bora and Amanda‘s reviews, is negative.

Still, the link between the two most obvious characteristics of fascism – domestic disdain for civil rights and foreign belligerence – is unimpeachable. It appears in mainstream political science in the form of the democratic peace theory, and features prominently in mainstream psychology of fascism. This isn’t some crackpot theory that the left likes only because it flatters its anti-fascism. Warmongering isn’t correlated to authoritarianism by accident the way either is to support for capitalism; the two have a longstanding political and ideological link.

The article describes a bipartisan bill to repeal Bush’s law. If it becomes a priority, it could signal that the window of opportunity of totalitarianism in the US is closing. However, I don’t think it will be a high priority for the Senate leadership. After all, the Democrats could have filibustered the bill indefinitely in October on the grounds that the people should get a chance to vote based on it.

Out of the three requirements for totalitarianism – motive, means, and opportunity – opportunity is the easiest to assail. The motive tends to be longlasting; neoconservatives have been around since the 1960s, and Dominionists since the 1970s. If 9/11 had happened ten years earlier, they’d have passed the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Bill under George Bush Sr. The technological means are here to stay and only get stronger.

There really are two ways of making totalitarian politics less likely to succeed. One is to make the ideology behind it less fashionable. Call it the return of pre-9/11 politics, triggered by the catastrophic failure of the United States to pacify Iraq. That route is unlikely, since it requires a clear political alternative, which doesn’t presently exist.

The other is to directly close the window of opportunity, which is based on fighting back. People don’t generally support authoritarianism, unless it can connect to them by capitalizing on the failure of liberalism to deliver or on traditional values, in descending order of importance. Here Democrat-style spinelessness falls under the rubric of failure to deliver.


Europe is Getting Tough on American Abuse

February 16, 2007

Update: I forgot to link to the relevant story.
In the wake of the release of a European Parliament report about the CIA’s use of European territory for illegal operations including kidnapping of innocent civilians, an Italian court has just indicted 26 CIA agents in an ongoing investigation of a kidnapping that occurred on Italian soil. The New York Times reports,

Despite the indictment, issued by a judge in Milan, it is unlikely that any of the Americans will ever stand trial here.

All the operatives, which included the top two C.I.A. officials in Italy at the time, have left the country. Moreover, Italy has not requested their extradition, and if it did, there seems little chance the Bush administration would agree.

But the indictment nonetheless marked a turning point in Europe, where anger is high at the secret American program of “extraordinary renditions” that whisked away terror suspects in contravention of the law after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The Italian investigation is less solid than the German one for several reasons. First, Prodi is under fire for not requesting extradition; such a request would be purely symbolic because no US President, much less Bush, would approve it. Second, the Italian justice system’s reputation could be better. And third, there are specific reports of irregularities in the investigation, including wiretapping Italian agents.

But still, despite the natural slowness of such investigations, the message is clear: the United States is not above international human rights laws.

What Clinton understood and Bush doesn’t understand is that American power isn’t monolithic; the US needs the cooperation of its allies to be able to achieve anything. Under Clinton, the CIA would have found ways of kidnapping those people that wouldn’t trigger a counterreaction from Germany and Italy. Bush would have none of that, because of his notion that his power shouldn’t be limited by anything, up to and including political reality.

Bush’s blatancy is as always his downfall. The CIA breaks the law countless times every day, but only when it does so in such a blatant way do local governments take enough of an interest to derail it. And only when the US has already squandered its support in the world do those governments take the step of indicting CIA agents.

In a way, Bush is the quintessential American. The American view of international politics is that respect for human rights is for lesser nations; Bush’s view of national politics is that respect for the Constitution is for lesser people. Where Clinton minimized the American proclivity for hotheadedness in policy, Bush exaggerates it.

I’m not naive enough to think American abuse is going to end just because Europe is starting to indict CIA agents. CIA abuse has a long history that includes openly flouting US law, to say nothing of foreign laws. And saying “I think the US should be limited by international law” in the US is like saying “I’m pro-American” in any other country. However, this investigation helps things a little bit if only because it creates a link between committing atrocities and losing the world’s goodwill.


Tuesday Small Hours Links

February 13, 2007

There are so many good links from the last day or two.

Jessica Dreadful breaks another abortion ban story from South Dakota, this time with exceptions for rape and incest in order to make the bill more palatable. But even then, the rape and incest exceptions are created with the most draconian restrictions possible.

[Link] The bill would allow rape victims to get abortions if they report the rapes to police within 50 days. Doctors would have to confirm those reports with police; doctors also would have to give blood from aborted fetuses to police for DNA testing in rape and incest cases.

The Commissar explains exactly what is wrong with the Bush administration’s accusations of Iranian support for Iraqi militants. Instead of trying to doubt the intelligence that was used to gather the conclusions, he shows why the conclusions themselves are implausible.

At the recent US military briefing about the Iranian mortar shells given to Iraqi Shiite militias, it was reported that these super-bombs have killed 170 US troops since June, 2004. I’m sure that Shiite IED’s have killed American troops in Iraq. How many overall? If the Iranian EFP’s have killed 170 Americans, what fraction is that of the total.

(…)

Of the 553 (82+471) where the sect of the attacker can be reliably inferred, 15% of these deadly IED attacks were committed by Shiites. Extrapolated to the full set, that would be 144 overall. That’s right. Only 144 Shiite-IED related deaths since June 2004.

Ezra has a three part series on the horrors of prison rape. While he doesn’t use the wonky style we all know and love, his posts still come off as very strong. He notes,

According to the Justice Department, “[in] 2005 there were 3,145 black male sentenced prison inmates per 100,000 black males in the United States, compared to 1,244 Hispanic male inmates per 100,000 Hispanic males and 471 white male inmates per 100,000 white males.” This is important. The relative infrequency with which white Americans enter prison, particularly for extended periods of time, surely effects the political urgency of prison reform. Indeed, it’s likely the reason overall legislation pushes in the other direction — towards overcrowding and longer sentences and less rehabilitation.

Brent reproduces a letter about the invisibility of atheists in the US. Since atheists are impossible to immediately discern from theists, bigoted Christians can get away with assuming that everyone in their lives who is a good person shares their religion. Based on that, he urges atheists to come out publicly.

First, misconceptions about us abound because of this invisibility. People don’t realize that we are their doctor, their teacher, their spouse or the nice guy that just held the door for them. The only face of naturalism a person is likely to see is a militant one. Is there any doubt that the image of naturalists would improve overnight if politicians, stars and athletes would come out?

d of Lawyers, Guns and Money comments on a statement by Bill Kristol about Obama that makes Joe Biden look like the second coming of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, W. E. B. DuBois, and Frederick Douglass all rolled into one. Kristol says Obama would’ve supported pro-slavery politicians in the 1850s. d notes,

When Kristol suggests — wearing his arrogant smirk like a badge of honor — that Barack Obama “would have been for Douglas in 1858,” he seems not to know one important historical fact. According to the laws of Illinois in 1858, Barack Obama would not only have been incapable of voting for Stephen Douglas, but he also would not have been allowed to enter the state in the first place. In 1853, Illinois passed one of the most restrictive black codes in the so-called “free north.” Blacks from other states were permitted to remain in the state for ten days; if they did not leave, they were subject to arrest and temporary enslavement — they would be sold to bidders who would be entitled to their labor until the mandatory $50 fine had been worked off. If the offending individual remained in Illinois after his or her release, the fines increased by $50 increments for each subsequent offense.

In her latest basic concepts post, Shelley turns to prions, the proteins that cause mad cow disease. Although they are proteins rather than organisms, they have the capability to mess with existing proteins in a way that makes them infectious in a way.

The protein that prions are made of is found throughout the body normally(called PrPc), although what their non-disease function is is not yet known. These proteins are encoded by the PRNP gene, and mutations in this gene are responsibly for inherited prion diseases. The disease-state prion protein is called (PrPSc) and is resistant to proteases which would normally denature a protein and render it harmless. The theory of how prions become infectious to other proteins is detailed below.

Abbas reproduces a letter by Waleed Hazbun, a visiting professor at the American University of Beirut. Hazbun describes the city,

Walking down the streets of the Hamra district of Beirut I think to myself that more cities across the Arab world should feel this way. Even as the city is re-dividing itself politically and police and security forces stand watch over public spaces, key buildings, and the residences of leading politicians, Beirut remains a urban, cosmopolitan environment. By invoking this term I do not refer to the fancy shopping districts with Euro-American name brand shops, the haut-hipsters hanging out a Starbucks (or even the much cooler De Prague), or the late night dancing parties going on at the trendy clubs. Beirut is a costal Levantine city that has never been cut off from other Mediterranean cities and trade routes nor fully isolated from its Arab/Islamic hinterland. It is not a show case ‘modern’ city built next to a museumfied medieval era ‘madina,’ like Tunis nor an artificial metropolis emerging out of a desert landscape due to royal patronage or the flows of petrodollars. It is more like Istanbul and how cities on coast of Mandate Palestine might have developed in some alterative reality.

Also on 3QD, Dhiraj Nayyar writes about the parallels between India and the US. India is aspiring to global superpower status, complete with economic domination and massive exportation of culture. But the social problems of the US pale in comparison with those of India.

Can India possibly claim to be superpower, the new emperor, just because some of it’s corporates are taking over firms abroad. Corporate might hasn’t turned into well-being for the majority of the people who still languish in poverty, illiteracy, hunger: basically dismal human conditions. Even possessing a few nuclear weapons doesn’t change this fact. And if half a country’s population cannot read, feed or cloth itself, what does that say about the empire? Even the American empire seems hollow when it is estimated that one in six people in the US is functionally illiterate, a large number of them live in poverty, where poverty is often a function of race, and where hurricanes like Katrina leave the mighty government fumbling for solutions.

Tyler expresses skepticism of much-hyped developments in quantum computing. In principle, quantum computers can factor integers in polynomial time, compared with exponential time for normal computers. In practice, constructing a quantum computer is about as feasible as fusion power at this stage. Tyler explains,

An actual working 16-qubit quantum superconductor that can overcome decoherence and the ubiquitous errors that plague any effort to build a computing device on quantum principles would be quite an achievement. It would indeed be interesting to do a full scale quantum computation, perhaps actually executing the Shor factoring algorithm. But A.) 16-qubits isn’t going to cut it and B.) they’ve been ominously reserved about releasing any results for professionals and academics to evaluate. And needless to say, with the grandiose proclamations the folks at the company have made, I’m skeptical.

Zuzu rips into the third chapter of Dawn Eden’s book, The Thrill of the Chaste (the parts Zuzu quotes sound as unintelligent as the title).

The chapter opens with a description of a continuing education course on “Living Single.” Dawn reads the description — which is all about helping people confidently navigate the single world, whether they’ve never left it or are re-entering it — and all she sees is “lack.”

She would, wouldn’t she?

I mean, her whole life, she’s felt lacking, and though she’s changed her strategy, her goal is the same: get married. Thing is, as she does so many times, she breezes right by the point. The course is designed to alleviate some of the social pressure that single adults feel to be in a couple, that they are in fact lacking something. It’s designed to help people understand that they don’t need to be in a couple to have fulfilling lives. But Dawn just sees the course as evidence that women are mired in a pathetic, pop-culturally-dictated “single lifestyle” that is all about lack — that lack being, of course, lack of a man and lack of God.

Finally, Bora collects all Darwin Day posts in one big link post. I haven’t had time to look at them yet, but you should.


Generic Issues

February 7, 2007

1. I intended to dedicate this day to Giuliani, not McCain. So here it goes: Giuliani had nothing to do with the drop in crime in New York. The blue dot is when Giuliani’s predecessor, Dinkins, assumed office. The red dot is when Giuliani assumed office.

new-york-murder-rate-1.GIF

(The data comes from here)

2. Tyler blogs about a right-wing nut who complains that Israel is recognizing gay marriages performed in other countries: “The pro-family official’s concern, he explains, is that Israel’s acceptance of same-sex marriage will give ammunition to its Islamic enemies and fuel their propaganda.” Tyler notes that this is just the Dinesh D’Souza strategy of saying that conservative values are good because the terrorists hate liberal values.

My own comment on that is that the greatest number of Palestinian terrorist attacks is on settlers, who are fairly religious, and on targets in Jerusalem, a conservative city. Attacks on liberal Tel Aviv are the most spectacular, but while half of Israel’s Jewish population lives in Tel Aviv metro, far fewer than half of Palestinian attacks are on Tel Aviv metro.

3. Hat-tip to JD2718: Ray of Education and Technology rips into the Wall Street Journal, which decided to resurrect the meme that public school teachers work 7 hours a week. Based on calculating the number of hours they spend teaching, it arrived at an hourly pay figure of $34/hour. Based on calculating the actual number of hours they work, including teaching, staff meetings, and grading, $15/hour is closer to reality.

Also due to JD2718, the NYC Department of Education’s fetish for small schools combines the worst features of small schools and large schools. Ordinary small schools have their own buildings and are self-contained enough to teach 400-500 students independently. New York’s small schools share the same building with other schools, so they have to coordinate things like bells; a better way to describe them would be large schools supervised by committee.

4. Wal-Mart’s dreadful history of discriminating against women is finally resulting in a trial. Wal-Mart isn’t even denying that the discrimination exists, but instead tries weaseling out of a class action lawsuit and says individual women should sue individual stores.

In a way this is significant beyond Wal-Mart, because the company’s ridiculous claim that it “did not have a policy of discriminating against women” can help underscore a strict liability doctrine in civil rights cases. A corporation is responsible for making sure it’s an equal opportunity employer; if it isn’t aggressively punishing managers who discriminate, it’s exposed to class action lawsuits. It’s just how states are responsible for making sure their militaries don’t murder civilians when occupying a foreign country.

5. Hamas and Fatah are negotiating in Mecca. They’ve been negotiating for a while; while their leaders are talking to each other about how to forge a unity government, their foot soldiers are killing each other as well as any civilians who happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.


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